Continued Groundwater Pollution at Gadsden Proves That Cap-in-Place Does Not Work

Alabama Power currently plans to cap-in-place all their coal ash pits statewide. We at Mobile Baykeeper maintain that this is not an effective solution - and now we have Alabama Power’s own reports, as well as a maximum fine from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), to back us up.

Google satellite map of Alabama Power’s Plant Gadsden in Gadsden, Alabama. The ash disposal “pond” is clearly labeled in the top left quadrant, dangerously close to the Coosa River.

Google satellite map of Alabama Power’s Plant Gadsden in Gadsden, Alabama. The ash disposal “pond” is clearly labeled in the top left quadrant, dangerously close to the Coosa River.

Last week, ADEM fined Alabama Power $250,000 (0.03% of their 2017 profit) for continued groundwater pollution at their Gadsden Plant - months after the utility had already “closed” the plant using the cap-in-place method. Cap-in-place covers the coal ash pit on top but still leaves it unlined on the bottom, often near vulnerable waterways. Alabama Power finished the cap-in-place process at Gadsden in the fall of 2018. The violations they’re still finding include as much as 10,000% (100x) of the national groundwater limit for arsenic and 50% above the limit for radium.

But that’s in Gadsden. Why does Mobile Baykeeper care? Because Alabama Power also plans to cap-in-place their pit at Plant Barry, just 25 miles up the Mobile River from downtown Mobile. The coal ash pit there is several times larger than the one at Gadsden - it’s actually one of the largest in the country - and again, Alabama Power’s own reports show that they’re already violating groundwater standards - at some points their numbers are 973% the legal limit of arsenic. They’re also leaking cobalt.

Additionally, Plant Barry sits less than a mile from the backup drinking water source for the more than 300,000 citizens who get their drinking water from the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS). The MAWSS pumping station lies within the inundation zone, meaning that it would be covered by coal ash in the event of a dam failure. Such a failure would be highly likely when the next major hurricane hits.

The continued violations at Gadsden prove what we knew already: that capping in place does not stop groundwater pollution. That is why we are asking our commissioners and city councils to tell Alabama Power that they cannot cap-in-place and must instead remove the coal ash to lined, upland landfills away from vulnerable waterways and communities.

The coal ash pit at Plant Barry is outlined in yellow above, and surrounded on three sides by the Mobile River.

The coal ash pit at Plant Barry is outlined in yellow above, and surrounded on three sides by the Mobile River.

“Unfortunately, this evidence of toxic pollution confirms our warnings to Alabama Power,” says Casi Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper of Mobile Baykeeper. “Closing an unlined pit of toxic coal ash within several hundred feet of a major river will not work. Planning to close an unlined pit when Alabama Power’s own data clearly shows that capping-in-place doesn’t work is even more irresponsible to our economy, environment, and quality of life,” Callaway says. “ADEM and Alabama Power must learn from the mistakes made by covering up coal ash at Plant Gadsden. The only solution that will guarantee the health of our communities and environment is to dig up the coal ash and move it to an upland, lined landfill away from our vitally important waterways - or recycle it.”

We have tried persuading Alabama Power not to cap-in-place, but to no avail. In fact, the utility did initially plan to dig up their ash and move it, but decided to cap-in-place instead in the fall of 2016.

We are now asking citizens like you to reach out to your elected officials and ask for their help. You can learn more and take action at mobilebaykeeper.org/coalash.